Older black voters — and in particular older black women — remain our party’s bedrock. But efforts to solidify our party’s base can’t end with the identity of Biden’s running mate. No matter the race of the woman he selects to be our party’s vice presidential nominee, we need to embrace an agenda that speaks to everyday concerns of our party’s anchor constituencies. And the addition of college-educated women to that base will require us to recruit different candidates for our farm team, highlight new issues, give new weight to parts of our legislative agenda and advertise with a new base audience in mind.
Suburbia’s emergence as a new Democratic base traces an arc similar to one scribed over the past decade in Colorado: Once considered a swing state at best, the state is now cobalt blue, where the GOP can’t even hope to compete in presidential elections. That’s instructive. Nancy Pelosi is speaker today not because Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York inspired fervor on social media, but because Lucy McBath of Georgia, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, among many others, flipped mostly suburban red districts in 2018. Those victories were fueled by women with college degrees. We need to learn from those wins and replicate them around the country.
It’s true that younger voters helped propel Obama into the White House — but Obama’s coalition was unique to Obama. Biden is developing a coalition all his own. Black and urban centers will be crucial in 2020, and Biden is poised to be the first Democrat since Al Gore to win a constituency that’s particularly important in swing states, namely voters 65 and older. Clinton, Obama and John Kerry all fell short; Biden appears to be getting a majority of seniors, never easy for a Democrat.
But it is suburban women who are creating the new Democratic majority and the change that can bring. After suburban districts painted Virginia’s state legislature blue last year, Democrats managed to deliver legislative victories on gun safety, abortion rights and racial equality. And because that progress has inspired so much additional support, Virginia is now out of President Trump’s reach. Unlike voters who will either vote for Biden or just stay home, college-educated suburban women will choose between Biden and Trump in November, meaning each additional vote from this group is essentially a vote Trump loses. In other words, like black voters, these women are a key to reestablishing a progressive judiciary, addressing social injustice and expanding economic prosperity from the middle out.
To win Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida or Arizona, Democrats will need to speak explicitly to these voters’ concerns. We should talk as much about environmental protection — clean water and clean air — as we do about climate change. When discussing infrastructure, we should highlight traffic reduction as much as light rail. We should pay as much attention to expanding universal pre-kindergarten and improving K-12 education funding as we do to college costs. And beyond talking about Trump’s cultural divisiveness, we should focus on the culture of corruption in Trump’s Washington.
The Trump campaign is so focused on driving enthusiasm within his narrow base of white male populist voters that he won’t even try to compete for the suburbs — he has already ceded that ground. That marks a unique and historic opportunity for Democrats, not only for 2020 but also for years beyond. It’s not enough to be an alternative to Trump — we need an affirmative agenda that binds the “metropolitan majority” of urban and suburban voters. If our political and legislative strategies reflect and include the interests of both the nation’s urban core and college-educated suburban women, a President Biden and his Democratic successors are sure to be able to enact much more of our party’s progressive agenda in the years and decades to come.